Turning points in life require hindsight. No matter how momentous a decision, or how meaningful an accomplishment might seem in the present, it takes time to understand the impact your actions have on the future and how they will change not just your behavior, but your attitudes going forward.
Look into the eyes of Minjee Lee these days and you may see a different person than the young Australian golfer of a year ago. Her gaze drills deep into the souls of those who engage her – a taut lioness stalking a grazing gazelle. Her verbiage is much the same: guarded and quick. She isn’t one who rushes to fill an uncomfortable silence with more talk. Ask a question; she gives you an answer. If it’s not the one you want, too bad. But that has always been Lee’s approach. The difference is in the eyes, and the walk – a clipped and confident gate, shoulders back, almost a double-time march – and the expectations.
After winning the U.S. Women’s Open and then charging on Sunday at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Lee was asked about the Rolex Rankings. Because of the way math works, the numbers on the charts often lag the reality on the ground. So, does Minjee think she’s the best player in the world?
The lion’s gaze burned through the questioner, and the one-beat pause sent a jolt of electricity through the air.
“I think I'm contending,” she said, and then tried to hide her feelings on the subject behind a laugh. “You know, I still want to be humble, stay humble, but I want to think that I'm hard to beat right now.”
Where did that “hard to beat” attitude originate? For half a decade or more, the current World No. 2 was considered a classic underachiever, the owner of one of the best swings in golf, but her victory record didn’t match her talent. Then, out of nowhere, she became the player whose presence on a leaderboard sent tremors through the field.
How and when did this happen? What was Minjee Lee’s turning point?
The answer is easy. The date was 25 July 2021, written that way because of where it took place: Evian-les-Bains, France. That sunny Sunday on the shores of Lake Geneva, Lee turned a corner, shrugging the yoke of unrealized potential and finally matching her talents with her dreams.
That day, Minjee Lee fired a 64 to come from seven shots back and win the Amundi Evian Championship. It wasn’t that easy. She had to wait for an hour to see if her 18-under par would be enough. Turns out, it wasn’t. Third-round leader Jeongeun Lee6 shot 71 to also finish at 18-under par. A playoff ensued that Lee won with one more birdie, earning her then sixth Tour title and maiden major victory.
Wrapped in the Australian flag and holding the trophy was more than a breakthrough for Lee. It was a turning point. Since then she has won twice, a two-shot victory at the Cognizant Founders Cup and a four-shot runaway at the U.S. Women’s Open.
She almost did it again at Congressional Country Club. Lee fired a 2-under par 70 on Sunday, one of only three players in the top 15 to break par that day. It turned out to be one shot too many as she finished tied with Lexi Thompson for second, a single stroke behind champion In Gee Chun.
Afterward, Lee said of her rise in major championships, “I think I just like the challenge. I like it when it's hard. I think I focus a little bit more and a little bit better when it is tougher, and I like the pressure as well. To perform under pressure, I think that's sort of where I do my best.
“Also, I think a little bit is adrenaline and also because it's a Sunday of a major. You try to forget how tired you are from the whole week and just push through and try and score on the last day. Obviously, to play well on the last day is what you want to do as well.
“I think when you are out there, you don't really think about it. I don't anyway. I just try and focus on each shot.”
Then she marched out to her caddie and fans, the eyes of a lioness never looking back.
Her next start will be where the transformation began. Evian: the place Minjee went from winner to champion.